FaceApp's Russia-based development team addressed concerns and criticism over how the popular app handles user data and privacy.
- FaceApp is surging in popularity thanks to a filter that makes people look older.
- While FaceApp's age filter has led to plenty of fun online, some users are concerned about what happens to their photos once they're uploaded to the Russian app.
- FaceApp's terms of service allow them to use your photos and likeness for advertisements and other purposes, but it's not exactly clear what those other purposes are.
- As with all apps, users should be careful about sharing their photos and personal information online.
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FaceApp is the most popular free app on Google Play and Apple's App Store thanks to an age filter that makes people in photos look much older. But while countless photos of aged celebrities and casual FaceApp users have been shared online in the past week, there are mounting concerns with how FaceApp handles user data.
FaceApp first became popular in 2017; the app uses artificial intelligence to alter people's faces with a variety of filters. Photos added to FaceApp are uploaded to a server for processing before being sent back to the user.
Understanding FaceApp's policy on paper
FaceApp's terms of service give the company license to use photos and other information uploaded by users for commercial purposes, including their names, likenesses, and voices. The terms of service also say that FaceApp may continue to store user data after it's deleted from the app. The company said the data could be retained to comply with "certain legal obligations," but there is no limitation on how long the data can be kept.
FaceApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
FaceApp issued a statement to address privacy concerns
FaceApp provided TechCrunch with an itemized statement to clarify its policy amid the privacy concerns. Though the terms of service suggest that data can still be transferred to the Russian development team, the company says user data remains on the server side. FaceApp says photos stored on the server are kept to make the editing process more efficient for its users and that the photos are usually deleted within two days.
The company said it also accepted user requests to remove all personal data from their servers. However, FaceApp said the support team was backlogged with those requests. FaceApp also says 99% of users choose not to log in, so they don't have much in the way of identifying information.
Russian tech companies face increased skepticism
Last year, the former special counsel Robert Mueller's office charged more than a dozen Russian citizens with crimes related to a vast social-media campaign meant to influence the 2016 presidential election. The St. Petersburg, Russia-based Internet Research Agency used false identities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media platforms to spread fake news and propaganda.
While the actions of some bad actors in Russia should not condemn every Russian-based company, some FaceApp users and critics are reasonably concerned that their names and photos uploaded to FaceApp could end up being misused or leaked to the wrong company. FaceApp's statement said they wouldn't sell data to third-party companies and that data was not being transferred to Russia.
—Ceylan Yeginsu (@CeylanWrites) July 16, 2019
There are some additional security concerns with the iOS version of FaceApp because of the way iPhones handle photo security. While users can block FaceApp and other apps from viewing their full photo libraries through the iPhone's settings, TechCrunch reported on a loophole in iOS 11 that gives apps permission to access one photo at a time if the user grants permission.
So far, security experts have not detected any unusual practices with the current version of FaceApp, but as with all apps, users should be mindful of their lack of control when sharing photos and other personal data.